Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cave Surveying and Sketching Workshop

 Earlier in February, Carol Vesely, a renowned world-wide caver, came to Lehman Caves and gave a cave surveying and sketching workshop. The workshop was open to those attending the Lint and Restoration Camp (more coming on that soon). We started in the theater and learned/reviewed how to use compasses and inclimometers, tape measures, distos, and DistoX2s.

We had a little surveying course to practice.

We had a mix of caving experiences, from never surveying before to lots of experience surveying and some sketching.

It was fun checking to see how measurements compared with each other.

The next afternoon, we went into the cave and did some surveying and sketching. It definitely changes when you're in the cave!

You can see by the smiles that everyone had a good time. We learned a lot in a short amount of time, and I highly recommend one of Carol's workshops if you ever have the opportunity!

Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 Ely Birkebeiner

 The Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts sponsored the Ely Birkebeiner cross country ski race again this year up on Ward Mountain. They moved it to January, which turned out to work great because we had awesome snow (and then a huge warming trend in much of February).

The kids and I were all planning to race, but then I wasn't feeling so great that morning and really wanted to watch the kids race, which I wouldn't get to do if I raced, so we only registered them. But I put on my skis for a little warmup.

Then we watched the adults take off.

The colorful flags made for a very nice start! The wind was really blowing at the start and it was cold.

The adult skiers were doing about 6 miles in a loop.

They quickly stretched out into a line.

 Then it was time for the kids to go up on the hill to their start.

Desert Girl and Desert Boy were so excited to compete. They had been practicing and really wanted to get a medal.

I went ahead to break trail, as the new snow had covered the old trail. Desert Boy eventually came along. He wasn't the first.

These two sisters were battling for the lead. Their mom said they are super competitive.

After awhile I saw Desert Girl. Remember that cold wind at the start? Well, we didn't feel it in the trees, and she quickly overheated. I started taking layers from her. Then her ski binding broke in a way that we couldn't fix. So she had to just shuffle along with one leg and ski with the other. She was not happy.

This little guy was doing really well. The kids' ski race is pretty short, but there are so few kids doing it that they are spaced out a lot.

At the kids' turnaround I saw my friend Meg on the adult course.

 Then I went back to encouraging Desert Girl with her broken binding.

She got passed, which didn't make her too happy.

But she kept going, and I kept telling her that was the important part.

And we finally made it to the finish line! Desert Boy came in fourth, but when he learned that the three kids that passed him were all siblings and their mom used to teach skiing, he felt a little better. I think he was pretty happy with the way he skied.

There were some group photos and a photo of the medalists. Meg came in second for women!
It was a fun morning, with perfect ski conditions. It's so nice to have the opportunity to participate in an event like this. Thank you, Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Caving in Texas

 After I taught two three-day small party cave rescue classes, I had a day off. I usually don't when I go to cave rescue seminars, so I intended to fully enjoy it. What would be the best way to do that? Go caving, of course! Fortunately the past park superintendent was up to being our guide for the day. We started off with Gorman Falls Cave, which had been used several times earlier in the week, but I hadn't had a chance to go in. Here is Casey ready to lead the way down the first drop. It's three short rappels into a steamy cave.

Then you reach the stream below. I went upstream as far as I could to the sump, then downstream. This well shaft goes down to the stream, and I guess they drilled the well before they realized the cave was here. The cave was quite warm, and it felt good. It was a fun cave. Air has to be pumped into the cave before you go into it because it has high carbon dioxide levels, as do many of the Texas caves. It's good to go with someone who knows, as bad air could make your day a little problematic.

Next we headed to a cliff edge and found a spot between the pencil cactus and the prickly pear to rappel over the edge.

We swung into a cool cave that was highly decorated. I thought it was neat to see the old water line so distinctly.

Liz and John wanted a photo of them together on rope as they rappelled to the bottom of the cliff. They're getting married later this year.

At the bottom we walked a short way and got a view of the backside of Gorman Falls. The travertine that's built up along the cliff face is fantastic, and the green moss covering it gives it a great surreal look.

We had gotten permission and a key to go visit Gorman Cave, so we headed there next. There's a nice interpretive sign outside the entrance.

Kelby was our guide, and he explained how this used to be the most-visited cave in Colorado Bend State Park (which has 400+ caves!).  However, this cave has turned out to be a very important maternity colony. It also has bad air.

I immediately liked the cave, as most of it was walking passage. This wasn't how Texas caves were described to me! We followed the sinuous stream passage, stepping over pools of water and admiring a variety of formations. This was a neat speleothem right in the middle of the passage.

We passed the old gate, that had been back farther in the cave. We could smell and feel the change in air as we went through a thermocline. My pulse rate increased a tiny bit, but I didn't feel many other effects from the increased CO2.

We eventually got to crawling passage and found lots of little bones on the floor. What was going on? It turned out there were hundreds of dead bats. There was no sign of human interaction (the most typical reason that bats die). We put on our sleuthing caps and realized that last summer there had been massive floods in Texas. We found where the cave had sumped, and these poor bats had been trapped and died either from starvation or bad air.

Then it was time to head back to the lodge and hear all about the mock rescues that had happened that day. And to eat and celebrate! We had great facilities at Barefoot Fishing Camp.

 Volunteers prepared meals, and for this last night, we were treated to prime rib and bacon-wrapped asparagus. I don't eat this well at home! All the meals were fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Celebrations ensued, and the next morning, when it was time to pack up and head home, it was a little slow-going.
I had a super time in Texas and thank everyone who made all the arrangements and made it happen. I was a little afraid that some Texas cavers might have read my mystery novel, An Un-Conventional Murder, and take offense at the fun I poke at Texas cavers. But nobody mentioned it. So maybe I'm safe to visit Texas again! :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Small Party Assisted Rescue Training - Texas 2017

Opening talk
 I recently spent 10 days in Texas to teach back-to-back Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) classes for the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC). This all-volunteer organization wants to ensure that people have the best methods to get an injured, sick, or stuck caver out from the underground. Caves are one of the most difficult places to do a rescue, as passages can be tiny and convoluted, there's no way to get a short haul from a helicopter, GPS doesn't work, and there isn't any cell signal. Plus it's dark. And often wet. And sometimes deep.

The NCRC offers Levels 1 (Team Member), 2 (Team Leader), 3 (Advanced Rigging), and TOFE (Team Oriented Field Exercises) at weeklong seminars. These are all aimed at cave rescuers responding in big groups with lots of equipment. But what if you're really remote and don't have many people or gear? That's where Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) comes in. We focus on rescue with minimal gear and people. That's the kind of rescues we'd need to do where I live. So I love it.

The Texas regional seminar offered Levels 1 and 2 as well as two SPAR classes. When we started at our classroom, under a pavilion, at the beginning of the week, it was cold! We had coats on and made sure we were in the sun. Fortunately the classroom part is only half a day and rather interactive, such as with splinting your partner with things from your cave pack.

 In the afternoon it was time for stations, when groups of four rotated through four stations. This one is releasable redirect, or in other words, how to get someone up and over the picnic table.

Traveling haul was another one. You can see the awe and amazement about learning this technique. (I seem to have caught a lot of funny expressions!)

Later it was time for minimal gear. How little gear do you need to climb a rope?

 The next day we went out to some cliffs. I was in charge of the crack and crevice portion, and we had a really cool place to practice.

The third and last day we had scenarios, and the students rotated through three caves, solving a problem in each. The instructors split up and stayed in the same cave each day, and it was really interesting to see the different ways students solved the problems. Below they've rigged a diminishing loop to a haul system that can be hauled by a climber, which we've nicknamed the Dragon.

It can be a little awkward. But essentially just one person can carry out the rescue as long as the patient is conscious and doesn't have too serious of injuries.

 We finished one class and started right after dinner with the next class. Fortunately the weather had warmed up, so the next day we were even able to go down to short sleeves. Below, students figure out how to convert-to-lower off bolts. In other words, a rope is connected to bolts, and someone gets stuck on it. How can you quickly get them off the weighted rope and lower them to the ground with another rope?

There's more than one way to do it! We always like to practice the scenarios first in a somewhat controlled environment (not far from the ground), then the next day we step it up at short cliffs or caves, and the last day the students have to figure out what method to use.

 Part of the training included an alpine single rope technique (SRT) course, with rebelays, J-hangs, and even a guided rappel. Your climbing system has to be well-adjusted to do the course efficiently.

The guided rappel was my favorite. You basically rappel diagaonally.

 On cliff day I was at the Dragon station. We drew out the rigging and talked about it, had a demo, and then the students got to try it for real.

 Another station was climbing and rappelling counterbalances, a slick technique that doesn't require a lot of people either.

 On scenario day, the instructors switched up caves. I was the "bat," or invisible instructor fluttering around and checking rigging. Another instructor was on the small party trip, and he unfortunately got injured (in the scenario).

The students figured out how to splint him and get him out with minimal gear.

 At the end of a very fun class we set up for a class photo. Except the students decided to run away.

Fortunately they came back again.
It was a really fun week with great people and nice caves. I learned a few new techniques and am re-energized to keep learning more about cave rescue. You can learn more about cave rescue at the NCRC website.
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